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Updated: Dec 31, 2022

A day in Orvieto, a small town halfway to Florence north Rome by train situated on an Umbrian hill top, similar to Assisi, is home to an amazing cathedral dedicated to St Mary's assumption more affectionately called the Duomo. Not only is this just a spectacular cathedral it is also home to a Eucharistic miracle.

Orvieto was first established as a place of residence some three thousand years ago, by the Etruscans then used by the Romans and again during the mediaeval Italian times till today. It's sighting at the top of a hill with very steep natural cliffs made it a natural fortress for protection. In the mid 1200s Pope Urban IV, was living there due to a civil war that was raging in Rome and commissioned the Duomo to be built, it took several centuries to be finally completed.

The Duomo has a striking appearance as the stone used is a layer of darker and lighter on top of each other to create a Moorish look, that contrasts an absolutely stunning facer of the church in gothic style. It is adorned with mosaic images of St Mary's, assumption and coronation, carvings of saints and biblical figures as well as many intricate patterns that cover the full face of the walls. There is real gold used on the walls to create an effect similar to St Paul's basilica in Rome, when the sun shines on it, it dazzles.

The Duomo

Getting a decent picture of the front of the cathedral is difficult as it so tall and the buildings on the edge of the square are not far from the front. Picture thanks to Seth

This mosaic pattern that runs up the side of the front facia carvings.

The interior of the Duomo is as, if not more striking than the exterior.

The main altar.

The Duomo has two side chapels, the one to the left houses the blessed sacrament and the Eucharistic miracle, part of which is the corporal used in the mass which the the host turned into actual flesh and blood dripped onto it. The corporal is only displayed around Christmas and Easter while the host is only take out on the feast of Corpus Christi. It was in fact this very miracle that inspired the feast day of Corpus Christi.

The chapel with corporal displayed above the altar, only displayed at certain times of the year around Christmas and Easter. On the walls the paintings depict the crucifixion on the rear wall , and on the side walls is the story of the Eucharistic miracle. Picture thanks to Ben.

The corporal close up, I think that the small dark coloured spots on the cloth are the blood.

The story of the miracle is that a German priest was traveling to Rome and on his way through the area in 1263 he celebrated mass in a nearby town of Bolsena, He noticed blood dripping from the host onto the corporal, he immediately stopped mass and proceeded to Orvieto where he showed Pope Urban IV who was in Orvieto at the time. Pope Urban had the incident investigated and proved its authenticity. A year later Pope Urban introduced the feast of Corpus Christi into the church, although there was a push to have this feast established anyway this miracle probably confirmed the decision. Picture thanks to Ben.

Above the chapel the organ pipes.

The chapel to the right is dedicated to St Brizio who is Orvieto's patron, it is covered in amazing frescos, featuring judgment day and, the bodily resurrection, among many more.

Preaching of the antichrist and heaven.

The altar in the side chapel.

A bit like St John Lateran in Rome the Duomo has sculptures of the Apostles adorning the columns down the both sides of the nave, this is St Peter.

View from top of the town clock tower, views go out for miles.

The train lines and hi-ways in the valley below.

The narrow medieval streets around weave there way through the town.

Orvieto's natural steep clifftops made for excellent defensive structures.

Modern world meets the mediaeval.

A peculiar feature of Orvieto is that most of the houses have caves underneath them. This is mainly due to the fact that because the town is built on a very step sided hilltop there is limited space to do anything other than housing. So what the families did was to dig underneath their houses for space which was usually used for working or food production. This cave is one of the largest in Orvieto and was used for pressing olives and dates back to the 1200's.

The olive press, up until quite recent times the olive was used for lamp oil before electricity and the best oil, extra virgin was used for religious purposes anointing's ect.

A grinding stone used for grinding wheat, donkeys would have been employed to pull the stone around.

When reopening of these caves begun in the 1980's by the local council to find out what was down there, they found a well hole that had been filled in with dirt and rubbish, what the discovered when they cleared it out was that these wells date back to the Etruscan age and are believed to have been dug while under siege from the Romans about 300BC. As the citizens could not go out from the city for supplies. This well is 25meters deep from where we were under the surface and it is believed to go down another 30.

This is another cave that is one of many that date back to the Etruscan siege, that were used to house pigeon's at night. The pigeons would fly out in the day to feed in the valleys below and return to their clifftop nest at night. The pigeons were bred and eaten as a meat source. It is believed that the Roman siege lasted two years and the pigeons were the main meat source. Pigeon is still served in some restaurants around town as a traditional food source that dates back two and a half thousand years.

Orvieto's streets at night bustling with activity, if you don't know the Italian culture, it is a day of late morning starts especially in the country towns and build up to lunch from about 1-3 pm and then there is a break in the day from around three to five for a siesta and things get moving again. Most restaurants don't open until 7-7.30pm and go late into the evening. There happened to be a Jazz festival in town this week and it was quite busy with tourist and day trippers from Rome.

Unfortunately we did not stay the night and had to catch a train back to Rome that evening. We were not able to get into as many churches as we would have liked as most of them close for two to three hours in the day, and there were plenty more to see. See where we end up next week!

The three wise men following the star, myself, Ben and Honorius our Benedictine monk. Picture thanks to Seth

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